In addition to the cold, dark weather (thanks Ohio) and the fact that winter break is now over (sigh), my school has midterm exams, report cards, and parent conferences all in January.
Even if your exams happened in December and you have the fresh glow of a new semester to keep you inspired, the beginning of a new term can mean a lot of work, a lot of maintaining or building classroom norms, and a lot of energy to get back into the work/life groove.
While I'm not the master of sunshine in January, I have learned one valuable secret about this time: scheduling what my father calls a "Look-Forward-To", or preferably more than one. Having new, exciting, or rewarding events already penciled into my life in a dreary time period always works to keep my spirits up. (See ideas in the list below!)
Here are some tips to try to make the week(s) AFTER winter break as smooth and happy as possible!
Before or During Winter Break:
- Get yourself a "teacher present". Maybe it's a paper slicer, color-coordinating milk crates for storage, a new 2017 planner, or some other tool that will make life better... but treat yourself to something that will add to the shiny "Back to School" school supplies vibe that makes your teacher self smile! Digital files count too, like a new attendance chart or grading help sheets to stay more organized.
- Prep your whiteboard/chalkboard. Every Friday, I take 2 minutes after school to prep my whiteboard for the next week - writing the agendas, homework, reminders, etc. to ensure there's one less thing to do on Monday. You'll love walking into a classroom that's ready to go!
- Schedule a treat for the first week back. Book a massage, pencil in a movie date with a friend, or actually "book" something that makes you happy that is a "Look-Forward-To" in your calendar.
- Clean your desk (or another problem zone). Like #2, you'll be happier in January walking into a literal or metaphorical "clean slate".
- Schedule a social thing. Even if the new semester is a hard time for you, having *something* social planned will help you feel that your work/life balance isn't totally lost!
- Get your lessons plans AND copies done in advance. Bravo if you have lesson plans and/or curriculum maps in place (truly), but if you're rushing to the copier on the first two days back from break, that's added stress, no?
- Choose something happy for your mornings. New mug? Cool breakfast plan to try? Did you buy yourself a Starbucks gift card so you could get coffee guilt-free? Build in a happy element to your mornings, and you'll start the dark days off right!
- Solve ONE student problem. Think about a common student weakness you want to attack, and find a tool or solution to try. You'll feel like a hero, even if it only helps one worthwhile student! For example, you can try pacing bookmarks to help struggling readers, a choice research project to help students fix their own student problems,
- Plan way ahead for ONE thing. Treat yourself (and fight procrastination) by choosing ONE thing off your future to-do list and attacking it early. Need a new lesson on a particular topic? Going to plan ahead for a school event, committee, or holiday? Go for it!
- Reflect on what went RIGHT. Many teachers are their own worst critics (as if we don't have enough of those), but in addition to being reflective about areas for growth, ask yourself what you did RIGHT in the first semester. What activity, routine/procedure, or sequence went WELL? What is worth repeating?
- Start in your teaching "comfort zone". Whether you're doing a lesson/unit that you love, or you've downloaded a "sure thing" from Teachers Pay Teachers, you'll draw comfort from that feeling of confidence. Try new grammar bell-ringers, get New Year's-themed Writing Prompts across all the genres, or
- Plan a 12 Days of January. If you REALLY have the creative gusto, why not plan one small, positive thing for your first 12 days back from school... either for yourself, OR for the entire classroom? (Can you mimic the 12 Days of Christmas by passing out pencils, mints, or other goodies for 12 days?) Here's a FREE printable if you want to give students a "free pass" card to kick off the semester!
- Pre-plan your snow day coping strategy. If you live somewhere that's going to get inclement weather, decide NOW what your response will be, especially if your district expects you to give homework anyway.
- Maintain some "holiday" spirit in the classroom. White lights and snowflakes are appropriate well into January and February... just sayin'!
- Add seasonal shenanigans to your plans. Grab lessons and other materials that make sense for January or winter, such as Snow Day-Themed Nonfiction.
FREE: New Year's Writing Activity List!
this free list of writing prompts/activities, designed to help students reflect on the old year AND dream big during the new one!